Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Over the past few weeks, Peggy and I have been writing about topics raised in an interview with NEA’s Executive Director, John Wilson. We discussed global literacy and methods to stretch school dollars in a challenging economy. This week, we’ve decided to focus on another of the issues raised by Wilson – the importance of technology in education.

The Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education recently released the National Education Technology Plan, a document that outlines recommendations in five major areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. My interest was most piqued by the concept of “connected teaching,” where teaching is a team activity unrestricted by physical constraints. Connected teaching demands full classroom connectivity, so that educators and students can truly connect in real time to digital resources, other classrooms, other teachers, and professional experts. For example, learning about dinosaurs is fun, but learning about dinosaurs using an online video feed from an actual dig, and having the ability to ask questions of a real-life paleontologist in real time is invaluable.

We all know that technology changes at a breakneck speed, and classroom work, preparation, and grading often don’t leave a lot of extra time to invest in staying technologically current. Yet technology is increasingly at the core of our daily lives, both at work and at leisure, and this is especially true for students. It makes sense, then, to use current technology in as many innovative and effective ways possible to engage our students. Teachers can foster collaboration by using class wikis, blogs, learning management systems, and custom social networks such as Ning or Grouply. Some teachers are using in-class surveys and polling tools such as SurveyMonkey, Polldaddy, twtpoll or clicker to encourage more class participation and to encourage increased student engagement with the content. Polls, for example, can be used to stimulate class debate about class subject content or current events.

Mobile phones, once thought to be the nemesis of every teacher, have turned out to have some great benefits to the classroom. Teachers can record study guides, lessons, foreign language pronunciation drills, and other material using free applications like iPadio. Some enterprising teachers have used iPadio to deliver content to their students even when school is closed for a snow day. In turn, students can create podcasts (phonecasts) from their cell phones on a host of topics, including interviews, oral readings, music composition, and the like. Cell phones can also be used in art class – renowned artist David Hockney is currently using his iPhone to create paintings using the Brushes application.

There’s a lot of current buzz about QR codes, which are those little black and white squares that look like miniature crossword puzzles. They are increasingly cropping up on courier packages, magazine ads, catalogs, museum plaques, and a host of other items. Using cell phones, users can scan the QR codes to place an order or connect to additional information about a product or place. Some smart phones are already QR code-enabled; if not, you can download an application for free from various Web sites. The possible applications for QR codes in the classroom are endless: add QR codes to maps to quickly access additional information about a geographical region, its economy, and its culture. Increase vocabulary knowledge in your foreign language or ESL classroom by affixing codes to objects, so that when the students’ phones read the codes, up pops each item’s name in the target language. Add the codes to Powerpoint presentations to increase interactivity and connect to additional information, and so on and so on.

Connected teaching demands increased use of technology in the classroom, and the resources below can help you get started. We’ll also be featuring many more lessons and ideas on this topic throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Have fun!

Tales of Things
Subject: Language Arts, History, Social Studies
Grade: 4-11
This lesson plan uses QR codes in the classroom as a social studies/history/literacy project. Students can use QR codes to link any object or image directly to a 'video memory' or an article of text describing its history or background. The goal is to help preserve memories and information about various objects or images. Their movements can then be tracked, as well as any subsequent stories. This lesson was produced by INTERFACE Magazine, a publication for educators to learn about information and communication technologies.

The Science of Fringe #309: Exploring Protein Modeling
Subjects: Forensic science, Biology
Grade 9-12
In this lesson, students learn about 3-dimensional protein models and how their use allows scientists to predict biological behavior. They will also use computer visualization and online resources to guide them in constructing physical models of proteins. Smartphone users can simply point their devices at the QR codes embedded in the lesson plan for a quick link to the show. This lesson was produced by Science Olympiad in conjunction with FOX Broadcasting Co. Science Olympiad is an American science competition that provides challenges to nearly 6,500 students.

The Wonder of a Wordless Book
Grade: 3-5
In this lesson, students will develop and write a creative story from a wordless book. They will record the stories and export them into podcasts to be presented to the class. This lesson was produced by Digital Wish, a non-profit whose mission is to modernize K-12 classrooms and prepare students for tomorrow's workforce. Teachers create wish lists of technology products for their classroom, and donors then connect with their favorite schools and grant classroom wishes through online cash or product donations.

Joann's Picks ~ December 30, 2010

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